Concurrent enrollment or dual-credit coursework, in which high school students take college-credit courses, has grown steadily over the past decade. It has expanded beyond gifted students alone and become a way for high school students to jump-start their college careers.

Questions about the quality of instruction have been relieved somewhat by the evolution of the world wide web.

Now, the practice of using technology to deliver dual-credit coursework has laid a foundation for a new trend: the virtual high school. Virtual high schools offer primarily high-school level coursework in a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week format made possible by the internet.

The Virtual High School was created by the Hudson, Mass., public schools and the Concord Consortium with a $7.5 million U.S. Department of Education grant. This network includes 10 states and more than 50 courses designed to enrich the curricula of member schools. Each participating school is allowed to enroll 20 students and must supply one instructor. Each school also employs a site coordinator to administer the network, counsel students, and serve as a technical adviser. Proponents of the Virtual High School cite curriculum enrichment and greater access to instructional resources, especially for rural schools. Online instruction has another component as well: money.

The University of Nebraska at Lincoln has created a for-profit company, Class.com, to develop online coursework for individual students. The university intends to license Class.com coursework to other schools, sharing profits among the university, the state, and the Nebraska Technology Development Corporation.

Virtual high schools have become a nationwide movement, arising independently in multiple states. Questions about whether high school students possess the maturity and discipline to participate in online education remain unanswered, as do issues such as attendance-based funding and compensation for instructors who teach only online.

Regardless of the answers to such questions, it seems that Lewis Perelman’s comment in 1992 that “learning is in and school is out” was more prescient than even he realized.